TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: crackdwn.txt

The Coming Crackdown (from 2600)

From 2600 magazine volume 7, number 1 SPRING
To Subscribe:
         2600, PO BOX 752, Middle Island, NY 11953-0752
         $18 individual, $45 corporate yearly subscription rates


   A year ago, we told the stories of Kevin Mitnick and Herbert Zinn, two
hackers who had been sent to prison.  It was then, and still is today, a
very disturbing chain of events: mischief makers and explorers imprisoned
for playing with the wrong toys and for asking too many questions.  We said
at the time that it was important for all hackers to stand up to such gross
injustices.  After all, they  couldn't lock us all up.
   It now appears that such an endeavor may indeed be on the agendas of some
very powerful U.S. governmental agencies.  And even more frightening is the
realization that these agencies don't particularly care who or what gets
swept up along with the hackers, as long as all of the hackers get swept up.
 Apparently, we're considered even more of a threat than we had previously
   In retrospect, this doesn't come as a great of surprise.  In fact, it now
seems to make all too much sense.  You no longer have to be paranoid or of a
particular political mindset to point to the many parallels that we've all
been witnesses to.  Censorship, clampdowns, "voluntary" urine tests, lie
detectors, handwriting analysis, surveillance cameras, exaggerated crises
that invariably lead to curtailed freedoms.... All of this together with the
overall view that if you're innocent, you've got nothing to hide.  And all
made so much more effective through the magic of high tech.  Who would you
target as the biggest potential roadblock if not the people who understand
the technology at work?  It appears the biggest threats to the system are
those capable of manipulating it.
   What we're about to tell you is frightening, plain and simple.  You don't
have to be a hacker to understand this.  The words and ideas are easily
translatable to any time and any culture.

   "We can now expect a crackdown...I just hope that I can pull through this
on and that I can pull though this one and that my friends can also.  THis
is the time to watch yourself.  No matter what you are into.... Aparently
the government has seen the last straw in their point of view.... I think
they are going after all the 'teachers'...and so that is where their
energies will be put: to stop all hackers, and stop people before they can
become threats."
   This was one of the reactions on a computer bulletin board to a series of
raids on hackers, raids that had started in 1989 and spread rapidly into
early 1990.  Atlanta, St. Louis, and New York were major target in what was
then an undertermined investigation.
   This in itself wouldn't have been especially alarming, since raids on
hackers can almost be defined as commonplace.  But this one was different.
For the very first time, a hacker newsletter had also been shut down.
   PHRACK was an electronic newsletter published out of St. Louis and
distributed worldwide.  It dealt iwht hacker and phone phreak matters and
could be found on nearly all hacker bulletin boards.  While dealing with
sensitive material, the editors were very careful not to publish anything
illegal (credit card numbers, passwords, Sprint codes, etc.)  We described
"Phrack World News" (a regular column of PHRACK) in our summer 1989 edition
as "a must-read for many hackers."  In many ways PHRACK resembled 2600, with
the exception of being sent via electronic mail instead of U.S. Mail.  That
distinction would prove to be PHRACK's undoing.
   It now turns out that all incoming and outgoing electronic mail used by
PHRACK was being monitored by the authorities.  Every piece of mail going in
and every piece of mail coming out.  These were not pirated mailboxes that
were being used by a couple of hackers.  These had been obtained legally
through the school the two PHRACK editors were attending.  Privacy on such
mailboxes, through not guaranteed, could always be assumed.  Never again.
   It's fairly obvious that none of this would have happened, none of this
COULD have happened had PHRACK been a non-electronic magazine.  A printed
magazine would not be intimidated into giving up its mailing list as PHRACK
was.  Had a printed magazine been shut down in this fashion after hacing all
of their mail opened and read, even the most thick-headed sensationalist
media types would have caught on: hey, isn't that a violation of the First
   Those media people who understood what was happening and saw the
implications were very quickly drowned out in the hysteria that followed.
Indictments were being handed out. Publisher/editor Craig Neidorf, known in
the hacker world as Knight Lightning, was hit with a seven count indictment
accusing him of participating in a scheme to steal information about the
enhanced 911 system and were interfering with emergency telephone calls to
the police.  One newspaper report said there were no indications that anyone
had died or been injured as a result of the intrusions.  What a relief.  Too
bad it wasn'y true.
   In actuality there have been very grievous injuries suffered as a result
of these intrusions.  The intrusions we're referring to are those of the
government and the media.  The injuries have been suffered by the defendants
who will have great difficulty resuming normal lives even if all of this is
forgotten tomorrow.
   And if it's not forgotten, Craig Neidorf could go to jail for more than
30 years and be fined $122,000.  And for what?  Let's look at the
   "It was... part of the scheme that defendant Neidorf, utilizing a
computer at the Univerity of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri would and did
receive a copy of the stolen E911 text file from defendant [Robert J.] Riggs
[located in Atlanta and known in the hacker world as Prophet] through the
Lockport [illinois] computer bulletin board system through the use of an
interstate computer data network.
   "It was further part of the scheme that defendant Neidorf would and did
edit and retype the E911 Practice text file at the request of the defendant
Riggs in order to conceal the source of the E911 Practice text file and to
prepare it for publication in a computer hacker newsletter.
   "It was further part of the scheme that defendant Neidorf would and did
transfer the stolen E911 Practice text file through the use of an interstate
computer bulletin board system used by defendant Riggs in Lockport,
   "It was further part of the scheme that the defendants Riggs and Neidorf
would publish information to other computer hackers which could be used to
gain unauthorized access to emergency 911 computer systems in the United
States and thereby disrupt or halt 911 service in portions of the United
   Basically, Neidorf is being charged with receiving a stolen document.
There is nothing anywhere in the indictment that even suggests he entered
any computer illegally.  So his crimes are receiving, editing and
   Now what is contained in this document?  Information about how to gain
unauthorized access to, disrupt, or halt 911 service?  Hardly.  The document
(erroneously referred to as "911 software" by the media which caused all
kinds of misunderstandings) is quoted in PHRACK Volume 2, Number 24 and
makes for one of the dullest articles ever to appear in the newsletter.
According to the indictment, the value of this 20k document is $79,449.
   Shortly after the indictments were handed down, a member of the Legion of
Doom known as Erik Bloodaxe issued a public statement.  "[A group of three
hackers] ended up pulling files off [a Southern Bell system] for them to
look at.  This is usually standard procedure: you get on a system, look
around for interesting text, buffer it, and maybe print it our for
posterity.  No member of LOD has ever (to my knowledge) broken into another
system and used any information gained from it for personal gain of any
kind...with the exception of maybe a big boost in his reputation around the
underground.  [A hacker] took the documentation to the system and wrote a
file about it.  There are acutally two files, one is an overview, the other
is a glossary.  The information is hardly something anyone could possibly
gain anything from except knowledge about how a certain aspect of the
telephone company works."
   He went on to say that Neidorf would have had no way of knowing whether
or not the file contained proprietory information.
   Prosecutors refused to say how hackers could benefit from the
information, nor would they cite a motive or reveal any actual damage.  In
addition, it's widely speculated that much of this information is readily
avialable as reference material.
   In all of the indictments, the Legion of Doom is defined as "a closely
knit group of computer hackers involved in:  a) disrupting
telecommunications by entering computerized telephone switches and changing
the routing on the circuits of the computerized switches;  b) stealing
proprietary computer source code and information from companies and
individuals that owned the code and information;  c) stealing and modifying
credit information on individuals maintained in credit bureau computers;
d) fraudulently obtaining money and property from companies by altering the
computerized information used by the companies;  e) disseminating
information with respect to their methods of attacking computers to other
ocmputer hackers in an effort to avoid the focus of law enforcement agencies
and telecommunication security experts."
   Ironically, since the Legion of Doom isn't a closely knit group, it's
unlikely that anyone will be able to defend the group's name against these
charges -- any defendants will naturally be preoccupied with their own
defenses.  (Incidently, Neirdorf was not a part of the Legion of Doom, nor
was PHRACK a publication of LOD, as has been reported.)

   After learning of the PHRACK electronic mail surveillance, one of the
system operators of The Phoenix Project, a computer bulletin board in
Austin, Texas, decided to take action to protect the privacy of his users.
"I will be adding a secure encryption routine into the e-mail in the next 2
weeks - I haven't decided exactly how to implement it, but it'll let two
people exchange mail encrypted by a password only known to the two of
them....Anyway, I do not think I am due to be busted...I don't do anything
but run a board.  Still, there is that possibility.  I assume that my lines
are all tapped until proven otherwise.  There is some question to the wisdom
of leaving the board up at all, but I have personally phoned several
government investigators and invited them to join us here on the board.  If
I begin to feel that the board is putting me in any kind of danger, I'll
pull it downwith no notice - I hope everyone understands.  It looks like
it's sweeps-time again for the feds.  Let's hope all of us are still around
in 6 months to talk about it."
   The new security was never implemented.  The Pheonix Project was seized
within days.
   And the clampdown intensified still further.  On March 1, the offices of
Steve Jackson Games, a publishing company in Austin, were raided by the
Secret Service.  According to the Associated Press, the home of the managing
editor was also searched.  The police and Secret Service seized books,
manuals, computers, technical equipment, and other documents.  Agents also
seized the final draft of a science fiction game written by the company.
According to the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, the authorities were trying to
determine whether the game was being used as a handbook for computer crime.
   Callers to the Illuminati bulletin board (run by Steve Jackson Games),
received the following message:
   "Before the start of work on March 1, Steve Jackson Games was visited by
agents of the United States Secret Service.  They searched the building
thoroughly, tore open several boxes in the warehouse, broke a few locks, and
damaged a couple of filing cabinets (which we would gladly have let them
examine, had the let us into the building), answered the phone
discourteously at best, and confiscated some computer equipment, including
the computer that the BBS was running on at the time.
   "So far we have not received a clear explanation of what the Secret
Service was looking fo, what they expected to find, or much of anything
else.  We are fairly certain that Steve Jackson Games is not the target of
whatever investigation is being conducted; in any case, we have done nothing
illegal and have nothing whatsoever to hide.  However, the equipment that
was seized is apparently considered to be evidence in whatever they're
investigating, so we aren't likely to get it back any time soon.  It could
be a month, it could be never.
   "To minimize the possibility that this system will be confiscated as
well, we have set it up to display this bulletin, and that's all.  There is
no message base at present.  We apologize for the inconvenience, and we wish
we dared to do more than this."
   Apparently, one of the system operators of the The Pheonix Project was
also affiliated with Steve Jackson Games.  And that was all the authorities
   Raids continued throughout the country with reports of more than a dozen
bulletin boards being shut down.  In Atlanta, the papers reported that three
local LOD hackers faced 40 years in prison and a $2 million fine.
   Another statement from a Legion of Doom member (The Mentor, also a system
operator of The Pheonix Project) attempted to explain the situation:
   "LOD was formed to bring together the best minds from the computer
underground - not to do any damage or for personal profit, but to share
experiences and discuss computing.  The group has always maintained the
highest ethical standards....On many occasions, we have acted to prevent
abuse of systems....I have known the people involved in this 911 case for
many years, and there was absolutely no intent to interfere with or molest
the 911 system in any manner.  While we have occasionally entered a computer
that we weren't supposed to bein, it is grounds for expulsion from the group
and social ostracism to do any damage to a system or to attempt to commit
fraud for personal profit.
   "The biggest crime that has been committed is that of curiousity....We
have been instrumental in closing many security holes in the past, and had
hoped to continue to do so in hte future.  The list of computer security
people who count us as allies is long, but must remain anonymous.  If any of
them choose to identify themselves, we would appreciate the support."

   Meanwhile, in Lockport, Illinois, a strange talke was unfolding.  The
public UNIX system known as JOLNET that had been used to transmit the 911
files had also been seized.  What's particularly odd here is that, according
to the electronic newsletter TELECOM DIGEST, the system operator, Rich
Andrews, had been cooperating with federal authorities for over a year.
Andrews found the files on his system nearly two years ago, forwarded them
to AT&T, and was subsequently contacted by the authorities.  He cooperated
fully.  Why, then, was his system seized as well?  Andrews claimed it was
all part of the investigation, but added, "One way to get [hackers] is by
shutting down the sites they use to distribute stuff."
   The JOLNET raid caused outrage in the bulletin board world, particularly
among administrators and users of public UNIX systems.
   Cliff Figallo, system administrator for The Well, a public UNIX system in
California, voiced his concern.  "The assumption that federal agents can
seize a system owner's equipment as evidence in spite of the owner's lack of
proven involvement in the alleged illegal activities (and regardless of the
possibility that the system is part of the owner's livelihood) is scary to
me and should be to anyone responsible for running a system such as this."
   Here is a sampling of some of the comments seen around the country after
the JOLNET seizure:
   -> "As administrator for ZYGOT, should I start reading my users' mail to
make sure they aren't saying anything naughty?  Should I snoop through all
the files to make sure everyone is being good?  This whole affair is rather

   -> "From what I have noted with respect to JOLNET, there was a serious
crime committed there -- by the the [federal authorities].  If they busted a
system with email on it, the Electronic Communication Privacy Act comes into
play.  Everyone who had email dated less than 180 days old on the system is
entitled to sue each of the people involved in the seizure for at least
$1,000 plus legal fees and court costs.  Unless, of course, the
[authorities] did it by the book, and got warrants to interfere with the
email of all who had accounts on the systems.  If they did, there are strict
limits on how long they have to inform the users."

   -> "Intimidation, threats, disruption of work and school, 'hit lists',
and serious legal charges are all part of the tactics being used in this
'witch-hunt.'  That ought to indicate that perhaps the use of pseudonyms
wasn't such a bad idea after all."

   -> "There are civil rights and civil liberties issues here that have yet
to be addressed.  And they probably won't even be raised so long as everyone
acts on the assumption that all hackers are criminals and vandals and need
to be squashed, at whatever cost...
   "I am disturbed, on principle, at the conduct of at least some of the
federal investigations now going on.  I know several people who've taken
their systems out of public access just because they can't risk the seizure
of their equipment (as evidence or for any other reason).  If you're a
Usenet site, you may receive megabytes of new data every day, but you have
no common carrier protection in the event that someone put illegal
information onto the net and thence into your system."

   But despite the outpourings of concern for what had happened, many system
administrators band bulletin board operators felt compelled to tighten the
control of their systems and to make free speech a little more difficult,
for their own protection.
   Bill Kuykendall, system admininstrator for The Point, a public UNIX
system in Chicago, made the following announcement to the users of his
   "Today, there is no law or precendent which affords me...the same legal
rights that other common carriers have against prosecution should some other
party (you) use my property (The Point) for illegal activities.  That
worries me....
   "I fully intend to explore the legal questions raised here.  In my
opinion, the rights to free assembly and free speech would be threatened if
the owners of public meeting places were charged with the  responcibility of
plicing all conversations held in the hallways and lavatories of their
facilities for references to illegal activities.
   "Under such laws, all privately owned meeting places would be forced out
of existence, and the right to meet and speak freely would vanish with them.
 The common sense of this reasoning has not yet been applied to electronic
meeting places by the legislature.  This issue must be forced, or electronic
bulletin boards will cease to exist.
   "In the meantime, I intend to continue to operate The Point with as
little risk to myself as possible.  Therefore, I am implementing a few new
   "No user will be allowed to post any message, public or private, until
his name and address has been adequately verified.  Most users in the
metropolitan Chicago area have already been validated through the telephone
number directory service provided by Illinois Bell.  Those of you who
received validation notices stating that your information had not been
checked due to a lack of time on my part will now have to wait until I get
time before being allowed to post.
   "Out of state addresses cannot be validated in the manner above....The
short term solution for users outside the Chicago area is to find a system
closer tohome than The Point.
   "Some of the planned enhancements to The Point are simply not going to
happen until the legal issues are resolved.  There will be no shell access
and no file upload/download facility for now.
   "My apologies to all who feel inconvenienced by these policies, but under
the circumstances, I think your complaints would be most effective if made
to your state and federal legislators.  Please do so!"
   These restrictions ere echoed on other large systems, while a number of
smaller hacker bulletin boards disappeared altogether.  We've been told by
some in the hacker world that this is only a phase, that the hacker boards
will be back and that users will once again be able to speak without having
their words and identities "registered."  But there's also a nagging
suspicion, the feeling that something is very different now.  A publication
has been shut down.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of names have been seized
from mailing lists and will, no doubt, be investigated.  THe facts in the
911 story have been twisted and misrepresented beyond recognition, thanks to
ignorance and sensationalism.  People and organizations that have had
contact with any of the suspects are open to to investigation themselves.
And, around the country, computer operators and users are becoming more
paranoid and less willing to allow free speech. In the face of all this, the
belief that democracy will triumph in the end seems hopelessly naive.  Yet,
it's something we dare not sope believing in.  Mere faith in the system,
however, is not enough.
   We hope that someday we'll be able to laugh at the absurdities of today.
But, for now, let's concentrate on the facts and make sure they stay in the

   -> Were there break-ins involving the E911 system?  If so, the entire
story must be revealed.  How did the hackers get in?  What did they have
access to?  What could they have done?  WHat did they actually do?  Any
security holes that were revealed should already have been closed.  If there
are more, who do they still exist?  Could the original holes have been
closed earlier and, if so, why weren't they?  Any hacker who caused damage
to the system should be held accountable.  Period.  Almost every hacker
around seems to agree with this.  So what is the problem?  The glaring fact
that there doesn't appear to have been any actual damage.  Just the usual
assortment of gaping security hole that never seem to get fixed.  Shoddiness
in design is something that shouldn't be overlooked in a system as important
as E911.  Yet that aspect of the case is being side-stepped.  Putting the
blame on the hackers for finding the flaws is another way of saying the
flaws should remain undetected.

   -> Under no circumstances should the PHRACK newsletter or any of its
editors be held as criminals for printing material leaked to them.  Every
publication of any value has had documents given to them that were not
originally intended for public consumption.  That's how news stories are
made.  Shutting down PHRACK sends a very ominous message to publishers and
editors across the nation.

   -> Finally, the privacy of computer users must be respected by the
government.  It's ironic that hackers are portrayed as the ones who break
into systems, read private mail, and screw up innocent people.  Yet it's the
federal authorities who seem to have carte blanche in that department.  Just
what did the Secret Service do on these computer systems?  What did they
gain access to?  Whose mail did they read?  And what allowed them to do

   It's very easy to throw up your hands and sya it's all too much.  But the
facts indicate to us that we've come face to face with a very critical
moment in history.  What comes out of this could be a trend-setting
precedent, not only for computer users, but for the free press and every
citizen of the United States.  Complacency at this stage will be most
   We also realize that one of the quickest ways of losing credibility is to
be shrill and conspiracy-minded.  We hope we're not coming across in this
way because we truly believe there is a significant threat here.  If PHRACK
is successfully shut down and its editors sent to prison for writing an
article, 2600 could easily be next.  And so could scores of other
publications whose existence ruffles some feathers.  We cannot allow this to
   In the past, we've called for people to spread the word on various
issues.  More times than not, the results have been felt.  Never has it been
more important than now.  To be silent at this stage is to accept a very
grim and dark future.

TUCoPS is optimized to look best in Firefox® on a widescreen monitor (1440x900 or better).
Site design & layout copyright © 1986-2024 AOH